Illustration by Katerina Limpitsouni
Over the course of my ten year career in software development, I have been in hundreds of interviews, both as the interviewer and interviewee. The same question gets asked at the end of almost every single one: “Do you have any questions for us?”.
Almost every interview ends with this question. Prepare for it. Have an extensive list of questions prepared in advance. More questions than you’ll ever get time to ask. Better yet, write them down or print them off.
– Stevie Buckley, On nailing the interview
You may think you are done being judged, but this is the Bizarro World part of the interview where instead of being evaluated by your answers, you are being evaluated by your questions. I know this is true because I do it as a hiring manager. I’m expecting a good candidate to have questions. Curiosity is a clear indicator of excitement for the position and I want someone who is excited to work with me. The kinds of questions you ask represent the values that are important to you. If you don’t ask anything, it seems like you only care about getting paid.
As a candidate, I know that’s not always the case. There are all kinds of reasons why I might not ask very many questions:
- I’m exhausted from trying to appear flawless for the last hour.
- I’m saving my questions until I know if I’m going to get an offer or not.
- I suddenly forgot what I was going to ask.
- I think I already know enough (this is never true).
- I’m afraid my questions will be stupid; either too specific or too vague.
- I don’t want to take up too much of their time.
- I need to end this so I can go to the bathroom.
- I just don’t know what to ask.
But it’s important to always ask some questions because it’s a rare chance to learn what it will be like to work there. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ve learned everything you need to know in a couple hours. No one will be offended if you keep asking questions. If they do, you probably don’t want to work there anyway.
Remember, most of us only chat with our boss for one hour before getting the job. Then, your boss becomes one of the most influential people in your life. You are trading the one thing you can’t get more of: your time. Make sure it is appreciated!
– Rodolphe Dutel, How To Hire Your Boss
With the below list, at least you will never run out of questions to ask. As a candidate, it’s equally important for you to figure out if the company is the right fit for you. Note: do not ask all 85 questions at once, in a monotone voice.
- How long have each of you worked at this company?
- Tell me about a typical workweek
- Do you have bouts of “crunch time?”
- When was your last vacation?
- What is a bad day here like?
- Describe the day to day role
- What are the company’s primary values? What characteristics are you looking for in a candidate in relation to those primary values?
- What sort of training, mentoring, and career growth assistance is available?
- What’s the most impressive thing you’ve seen out of someone else you’ve interviewed recently?
- What do you see as the most challenging aspect of this job?
- What do you like best working at the company?
- How do you respond to the negative Glassdoor reviews? (if they have any)
- How are decisions made? How will the team be asked to accomplish things? Who makes those decisions?
- How do you set milestones/deliverables for projects and how does your team react when it’s clear they won’t be met?
- Where do requirements come from?
- How long does a requirement or idea take before it’s ready for the team to work on?
- How long does it usually take for a development task to make it from “ready for the team” to “in production”?
- Can you outline the steps in that process? (BA-ing/req gathering/product discovery, grooming, sprint forecast, development work, code review, QA, provisioning, other testing/review, deployment)
- If you do sprint commitments how often do you hit that goal?
- Who decides what the team works on?
- How are development tasks allocated?
- What is your biggest bottleneck?
- What tasks need approval or help from outside of the team (manager/ops/security/architects/DBAs/legal)?
- What percentage of you work is firefighting, maintenance, or new features?
- How much of you time is in recurring meetings? Do you have any that you don’t think are worth having?
- What are the big goals for this team over the next year/two quarters?
- Who are the customers of the team? [internal department, other teams, paying clients, anyone who signs up]
- How often to team members speak with them?
- [for internal] What’s the relationship like with that department/teams?
- Who do you work with on a daily basis?
- How big are your teams?
- What roles make up a team?
- How many of your teams are missing a particular role?
- What would be expected of me for the first three to six months?
- What will success look like in this position and how will it be measured?
- Tell me about the last person who had this job
- What did my predecessor do that was above and beyond?
- How do you measure engineer productivity?
- What’s your deployment process like?
- How often do you release to production?
- What’s your approach to testing?
- How would you describe the development culture?
- Do engineers pair-program, or mostly work alone?
- How long are your sprints?”
- How widespread is X programming language at the company?
- Who is responsible for code being declared “production ready”?
- Who is responsible for deployments?
- For you personally what is the toughest/slowest/most frustrating part of that process? How would you change it? [Why haven’t you?]
- Are there any development tasks that are only handled by one person? [eg. only the DBA does SQL, only the lead does X]
- How do you prioritize tech debt?
- How involved is the CTO in day to day work? (sprints, tickets, merge requests)
- Which agile processes do you follow?
- Do you have sprints? How long are they?
- Do you do sprint planning?
- How many people are not remote? Is the company remote first?
- What’s the tech stack?
- What metrics does the team have on your running system/products?
- What overlap is there with Ops?
- What does it take to provision and configure a new server?
- What tool do you use for code review?
- How many different codebases?
- Do you make daily builds?
- Do you have a bug database?
- Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
- Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
- Do you have user or product owner acceptance testing?
- Do you have pre-prod testing environments?
- What’s the process for releasing to production?
- Do you use feature flags?
- What is your branching flow?
- What is your unit test suite like?
- What is your automated integration test suite like?
- Do devs work closely with QA?
- Who would be my direct manager?
Question to Ask Your Potential Manager
- What is your favorite part about managing a team?
- How will you evaluate my performance?
- How available are you? Would we be in the same location/office/desks?
- How many direct reports do you have?
- What is your his background? [technical/non-tech]
- How often do you do 1:1s?
Hopefully this helps you with your next interview! Or if you are a manager or a recruiter, hopefully this helps round out your pitch by answering questions before they need to be asked. Send me your favorite question to ask in the comments or on Twitter!